How could Verizon have fought the NSA and won?

The NSA data-mined Verizon's phone records. Could Verizon have done anything to resist the government? Yes. Here's what: Photo: AP

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2013 ― The past week’s revelation that the National Security Administration was mining cell service provider Verizon’s data would have been an even bigger shock had it occurred in isolation. But with the AP reporters’ scandal, plus the Justice Department’s very personal pursuit of Fox News reporter James Rosen, it appeared to be only business as usual for the Obama Administration, which is increasingly mired in scandal and charges of corruption.

Not only Verizon customers, but anyone who talked with Verizon customers, was part of the most-sweeping dragnet of government snooping in our history, as far as we know. Unfortunately, because of all the other scandals and allegations of illegal activity, stonewalling, and liberal spreading of disinformation by various Obama appointees (none of whose activity, apparently, was known to the president), the Verizon revelations and NSA activities may not get the attention they deserve.

SEE RELATED: NSA out of control: We the people at fault

The Republicans will want to launch investigations. If recent history is any indication, they’ll appoint committees, and we’ll hear all about this after it’s been properly whitewashed … perhaps in 2022. Even some Democrats, notably those who are facing election in 2014, are shocked – shocked! – that this could be going on. Nobody’s going to prison, and it’s likely no one will be fired, though it’s possible some government employees will be shifted to other jobs.

The people lost a large part of their trust in their government with each of the past month’s scandals (the Benghazi lies, the IRS harassment, the AP and Fox News spying), but how could the NSA data-mining program have been stopped?

In the case of Verizon, it could have been stopped, but it would have taken more corporate courage than Verizon executives could apparently muster. Verizon was being coerced by the NSA, no doubt with serious threats. “Cooperate or else!” works, when the one demanding is the one with the guns, the police power and the courts. But Verizon had access to a power the government lacks: popular support.

Suppose Verizon said “No!” when the NSA demanded millions of customers’ data. Suppose Verizon had demanded, in writing, a list of just what the government was trying to get from them, and made it public? Suppose Verizon wrote its customers a letter like this:

SEE RELATED: The NSA isn’t our friend anymore

Dear Verizon Customer:

We have been told by our government that we must turn over all your records to the National Security Administration, in the name of national security. The NSA has not told us what authority it has to make this demand, and it has not told us why it suspects you – all of you – are posing national security threats of one kind or another.

Nevertheless, we feel we must comply, because we have been presented with this letter [see letter] and have also been threatened by the NSA with actions which will cost us (and therefore you) so much money that you could lose service. There are so many Verizon customers that, should we be forced to shut down even temporarily, the remaining carriers could not handle all the volume; not only you, but the people you call who use other networks, may therefore face massive and sometimes unpredictable service outages, due to the inevitable overloading of their networks.

While we believe that the government’s request is unreasonable and possibly illegal, we cannot fight this alone. Our corporate legal staff has never faced an assault of this type, and it is certainly not large enough to handle, in addition to all the work they already do in compliance and litigation, a full frontal attack by our nation’s internal spy network.

SEE RELATED: Obama, Verizon and data mining: Is this a scandal?

We need your help.

Please call your U.S. Representative and your two U.S. Senators at (202) 224-3121, and tell them that you do not like having all your phone records, locations, times of calls, who called you/whom you called, and other information simply turned over to the NSA, without any probable cause or a search warrant.

For the next week, Verizon will not charge calls made to this number to your phone; nor will any calls you make to this number count against your minutes, should you have other than an “unlimited” plan with us.

If you do not want the government snooping into your phone records without any reason or a warrant, call all three of “your people in Washington” at 202-224-3121 and tell them so. The call’s on us.

Thank you.

Your Verizon Management Team

Working for our customers, not the government.

The onslaught of calls from such a campaign would chill every person in the Capitol. There would be no need for Verizon to publicize this through the administration’s captive press; it would go viral in moments. The press would not be able to ignore it, and neither would Congress.

Better yet, this kind of direct communication would build trust in the private sector, and build an appreciation for how a free market and a free country are supposed to stay that way.

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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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